House of the week: Wellington villa

Last updated 05:00 20/03/2013

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It's a brave move to open your home to the street, but Wellington architect James Fenton was so proud of his renovated villa that he wanted it to be part of his close-knit community.

Fenton has reinvented the turn of the century villa in the suburb of Northland as a contemporary family home, with a self-contained studio apartment at the front.

"The studio enjoys public exposure and provides a sense of life and occupation to the street, a neighbourly extension of sentry posts provided by retailers around the corner on the main road," Fenton says.

The studio apartment, the latest addition, is set on the north boundary on the site of an old concrete garage. The floor level corresponds to the flat roof of the old garage, which Fenton says "always felt like the perfect level to be at". The positioning leaves space between the studio and the neighbouring historic church hall for broad entry steps marking a more public approach to the studio narrowing into a more private path to the house.

"We wanted to live together as a family with open shared space and a minimum of corridors and closed doors," Fenton says.

With that in mind, the north side was reconfigured as one large living, dining and kitchen space. 

"We kept a short length (one metre) of each of these walls to prop the north facade and around which we arranged the kitchen and study joinery fittings. We also cut a skylight into the roof over the middle of the kitchen to get more light into the body of the house without adding windows on the north wall, where a neighbour is close."

The existing south side bedrooms were retained, a new bathroom added with master bedroom to the west. Part of the old laundry was reconfigured as an ensuite, with the remaining laundry turned into the main bathroom.

"A twin wall polycarbonate and durolite roof draws sunlight in making it the warmest room in the house. We placed the bath in the middle of the room and arranged the shower and toilet either side. The laundry appliances are underbench in the room."

Fenton says the renovated, reinvented villa fulfills all the family's needs.

"The studio grew from my desire to work from home with my new architecture practice and a place for Tina to write, and some day providing a space to care for an elderly parent, if necessary. It has also become a key part of our emergency kit, as a new build it will survive an earthquake, undoubtedly more readily than the old."  

He says homeowners looking to renovate or build new should "accept the best compromise".

"Never expect to reach an end point when making a home, and consequently don't overbuild because you want "to do it once and do it right" - it will only ever be as right as the needs you have at the time, which are constantly changing."


Cost: Under $500,000

Architect: James Fenton Architect Ltd.

Size: Site, 562m2; house, 130m2 ; studio 34m2; garage 34m.

Materials: For the house (new addition): Eterpan compressed sheet wall cladding with Resene multishield clear acrylic coating/roofing waterproof membrane on ply. 

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For the studio: Blockwork base (clear siloxane finish), corrugated steel wall and roof cladding.

Internal finishes: Plasterboard wall linings, marmoleum on ply flooring, Hardiglaze cladding to bathroom, hardwood decking to bathroom floor.

Energy efficiency: Insulation wherever possible, plus the house is compact with the ability to close off rooms that do not need to be heated. The house has a wood burner and windows in the living areas are double-glazed. The studio is also fully double-glazed.

Done right: Maintaining the alignment of the studio with the house along the north boundary, which allows the landscape and steps to provide a semi-public space, enabling the church hall on the south side to read as a significant local building. Keeping the house compact. 

Done wrong: Every window in the house is a different type, which is great for explaining different options to clients but was a nightmare to detail - fortunately we had a great joiner (Paul at Wainui Joinery) to work through the details. Large aluminium sections on the studio's big windows means condensation occurs on the aluminium frame, so we would consider thermally broken joinery sections in future. 

Unexpected: Snow started when laying blockwork. Not having a door on the main bedroom took a reasonable amount of discussion but we have never needed to lock ourselves away.

The garage is an unexpectedly useful social space - it is very easy to clean up and is a great room to both engage with the street and get away from the house. 

Recommend: As much insulation as possible during construction, it's much more costly to add later. View material colours in the flesh rather than as samples. Give the ensuite to the kids and enjoy the biggest bathroom in the house.

Next time: Build earlier to maximise the opportunities to enjoy it. Provide water collection - this was considered but cost has meant it is a future addition. 

- © Fairfax NZ News


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